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Silk Road

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International trade routes have always been more than just the means of transporting goods and services to neighboring countries; they served as a way to spread culture and art in the region. Throughout history, when mass media, radio and telephones did not exist, trade routes served as communication highways. One of the most prominent trade routes in the past was the Silk Road which carried goods like silk and paper, and also served as a main medium to spread the ideas of Buddhism throughout Central Asia.

Silk Road or the Silk Route comes from the German Seidenstrabe. The term was first used by the German geographer and explorer, Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen. After having received extensive education in Germany and Europe, von Richthofen joined the Eulenburg Expedition, which took him through main Asian countries, such as Burma, Japan, Siam and Taiwan. Later on he frequently traveled to the region and visited Japan, China and other Asian countries. He labeled the trade route for its prominence in silk trading, the product which was to that day unknown in Europe.

The route itself divided in the Tibetan region, to bypass the mountains and spread far and wide. On the northern side it went in the present Russia and Georgia, encompassing both the Caspian and Black seas. On the southern side it spread though Asia going though China and India and reaching up to Mesopotamia and further though the Middle Eastern region to the Mediterranean. Silk Road extended by sea as well and reached to what is known today as Philippines, Africa and Europe.

Various findings suggest that the trade routes exited in the ancient times and were only perfected with years. Evidence of foreign trading exists all over the continents and can be traced though certain products that were transported on the routes. Historians and archeologists found evidence to suggest that animals were transported to Africa from Asia as early as BCE. Foreign items were found on other continents, suggesting intercultural contact and trading, giving reason to believe that the Silk Road existed, in some form, long before it was well known and served as one of the most prominent trading routes known.

As centuries went by the Silk Road gained momentum. It was the only way that the people could get access to products they could not obtain in their native parts. Silk, being a crop that did not grow in the mild climates of Europe and all too hot surrounding of Africa and Middle East, could only be obtained through trade with Asian countries, prominently China, India and Japan. Rice and other crops, along with domesticated animals and fines artworks and china were transported though the route as well. Even before the colonization began the route called to the attention of the Western Cultures and attracted the interests of European investors and merchants. Asia was conveniently located in the area from which most parts of the world became accessible and gained momentum in the trading marked.

But, aside from being one of the most prominent trading routes it was also and information highway which allowed the spread of one of the most prominent Asian religions and philosophies : the Buddhism. Buddhism is much more than religion, it is a philosophy, a way of life, a way to see the world and build your moral stance on.

The name Buddha means the awakened. It was not his real name. He was born Sighattha Gotama, a child of a wealthy family with an ancient noble lineage. The most common idea is that he was a prince. He was rich and is said to have had a life full of everything a man may desire. In his early adulthood he was suddenly exposed to finding out that life had a suffering side too and having discovered human pain through others wished to seek enlightenment. He renounced his former life, left his home, his parents, and his wife and went to seek the light. He sought to find a way to live without pain and suffering and wanted to free the rest of the people from having to live a painful existence. He spent many years trying to understand the world and define what it would mean to live in contentment with oneself and the surrounding world. He finally founded the concept of Nirvana, one of the most important notions in Buddhism. Nirvana means a state of existence free of burdens, of suffering and pain inflicted on the human soul by the imperfections of the material world. It was a place where one would be free to live a spiritual and enlightened life, as well as an idea that every human being should strive to implement in every day life. It was a spiritual discovery, a way to life a life and a way to deal with the imperfections that human world possessed. After he received the light, Buddha set out to teach and spread his word around the regions, trying to shed the light onto those who were still in the darkness. After his death he had left many followers and supporters who continued to spread his word after he was gone. His belongings were divided amongst the most loyal and his teachings lived on through the council and his followers that appeared after his death. India was the first country in Asia to have adopted the religion. Ashoka, the king of India, adopted the religion and vigorously did everything to have it spread though the country. During his reign Buddhist monasteries flourished and the monks were allowed to move freely about the whole of Indian Empire. They went around spreading the religion while Ashoka made it official on the government level, by making celebrations official through edicts and by dedicating various works of art to Buddha's life and teaching.

As Buddhism began to spread its influence in India more and more territories and people became susceptible to its spread. One of the main strategic points won over the newborn religion was the Kushans region. This region connected North-western India and what is known as Afghanistan and Pakistan today. From this region major trading routes took way, going to China and all the way up to the Roman Empire. In the 2nd century CE, Kanishak, the ruler of the region, converted to Buddhism. His conversion further contributed to flourishing of the Buddhist communities and monks as well as emersion of some distinctive art forms which defined the early stages of Buddhism. It kept growing and spreading, reaching to Bactria from Kushans. Some of the greatest Buddhist centers were built near Kabul, where colossal statues of Buddha stood unharmed for ages until the recent developments in the region and the fundamentalists' rage against this religion.

Once it spread firmly in India and surrounding regions, Buddhism took off full force and began spreading further across Asia. As it spread in massive forces Indian culture began to spread alongside with it, making Sanskrit one of the most popular languages in the region and introducing new art works and cultural dogmas



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